CW: Drugs mention, blood.
No one knows where we are. We’re miserably lost.
Amidst the darkness, my mom spots a pinprick of light up ahead.
Driving along the country road, falling snow envelops us like a cocoon, it floats like sprinkled stardust in the milky luminosity of our headlights.
“Up there,” cries my mom, “it looks like a little cottage. Don’t you agree, Isabella?”
“Yeah,” I mumble, noticing that she doesn’t ask my dad his opinion. In fact, she’s barely spoken to him during our trip. Or attempted trip, I never thought we’d get lost on the way to New Hampshire in the middle of December to visit my grandma. Lost on the way to granny’s house? Isn’t that straight out of some gory fairytale? And now a cottage to boot? What the hell?
But here it sits, under the quiet of the night sky, in front of our car, beckoning it seems, and curiosity prances through our minds.
The epitome of an English cottage, it sports a cherry-red door, fairy lights under the soffits, and creeping ivy winding along the stone facade. The light dusting of snow sparkling on the roof gives the illusion of sugar-frosting on a cake. Seriously?
As we approach on foot however, suddenly, the mood changes. I glimpse shadowy figures, half-lit by a pale moon, lurking in corners of the porch, and shudder as a chill traces my spine. The flapping of ravens’ wings startles me. Birds of oily black are perched atop two narrow, but lofty signs made of granite with ‘The Museum of Discarded Children’s Souls’ etched into them. They stand on either side of the door like knights in armor in front of a medieval castle. It’s the strangest thing I’ve ever come across in all my seventeen years.
My dad says, “Let’s knock and ask for directions to Concord.”
The door is opened by a lady wearing an apron tied around her waist smeared with fudge, nutmeg, and cinnamon, scents so inviting I crave tasting them.
“Welcome,” she says, “I’ve just taken the gingerbread cookie cups and fudge caramel brownies out of the oven, come in.”
Amidst the yummy baking smells, I detect something else in the air… a cloying waft of roses. It’s not an entirely unpleasant aroma, but it does strike me as being out of place somehow.
Once inside, although I’m grateful for the warmth, I suddenly freeze. I can’t believe the sight before my eyes. The things I see hanging suspended from the ceiling.
Hundreds of massive multicolored dollhouses and hollowed out spaceships, the size of a smart car, dangle from thick chains. Various items are showcased in them like trophies in a glass cabinet.
I drift from one dollhouse to the next, one rocket ship to another, looking at the pieces lodged within their shells, studying them like my life depends on knowing why they’re there.
“In this house,” the lady narrates, “we have one of our more evocative pieces, these little yellow rubber boots and rain jacket belonged to Jenna Wade, just five years old when her daddy left. See this here, next to the rainy-day things Jenna loved? It’s a brick of cocaine. Her dad liked to party more than he loved her, you see?”
I don’t really see, so I try shaking my head but something’s not right with my body. I suddenly feel… somehow disconnected… detached… a puppet being manipulated by someone pulling my invisible strings.
“Over here,” the lady continues, and I follow her, my feet floating on air like a ghostly being, “we have a football and helmet that belonged to Jonathan Wilson who was only eleven when he lost his father to these types of abominations.” She points to a giant photo of a sleazy woman holding a bottle of Jack Daniel’s Whiskey. She looks like a prostitute.
“Jonathan prayed that his dad would come to his football games to see him score a touchdown. He wanted his dad to be proud of him, but it was not to be. Jonathan’s mom donated these to us just a year after he was incarcerated. Poor kid hit rock bottom after struggling with depression. He yearned for his father so much. They all do, you know?”
We trail behind her like those kids in their trance-induced state, filing behind the Pied Piper, to other exhibits.
A slab of sidewalk nestled in the living room of a blue and purple dollhouse, displays a medley of colorful chalk drawings, rainbows of hues, assortments of shapes. Next to the concrete is a picture of a ranch with a mansion, horse stables, tennis courts and an Olympic-sized swimming pool.
“This was donated by thirteen-year-old Courtney’s dad whose wife, and mother of his only daughter, left them for a rich sugar daddy. Courtney loved art. But she began using drugs shortly after her mom ditched her, started sneaking out, drinking, and her dad felt helpless. It was tragic. She’s in rehab but, alas, not doing well.”
I start to cry.
I’ve heard the venomous hiss of the word divorce whispered from my parents’ lips.
But despite the hurt stinging my heart and soul, like lemon juice on cuts, the tears I’ve shed are more from embarrassment and jealousy. I’m envious of anyone whose parents are together, and I don’t even care how selfish that sounds.
Carsten and I truly love each other. And though we’re both young, high school sweethearts can end up happily married. They can have the proverbial white picket fence. Carsten’s parents are proof, they’re committed to stay together until death do them part. I want that too. Both sets of parents at our wedding and celebrating the births of our children. I don’t want to spend one Christmas at my mom’s and another at my dad’s. And have my kids call some stranger Grandpa Bob or Grandma Shirley– whatever dumbass my mom decides to fall for, or witch my dad replaces my mom with. If they split, I’ll die missing them both. And to hell with everyone else’s bullshit-take on how blended families can work wonderfully. There’s no Brady Bunch in this cruel world.
My sobs echo, like voices inside a rocky canyon, throughout the museum.
“Come, Isabella, dry your eyes. Let’s have your father look at this particular display,” the lady commands.
Within the biggest dollhouse yet, I spot a pair of pink ballet slippers, a bit worn but still exquisite. Then I gasp. They are mine. I can tell by the ink stain where I once dropped my calligraphy pen when I was hurriedly packing up my school things after dance class.
“What on earth…?” My mom’s voice comes out strangled.
Next to the shoes, there’s a picture of Lorraine. It’s her, I’d recognize that face anywhere.
“This young lady didn’t survive her dad’s abandonment, she was destroyed by the selfish way he discarded her for another family. Poor devastated Isabella died by her own hand. All because of this…” the lady sneers, tapping her fingernail on the photo of Lorraine, “…homewrecker.”
In a sudden moment of rage, she reaches into the dollhouse, grabs the polaroid, and rips it into tiny pieces.
She screams “But he didn’t say no to being seduced by her mom’s best friend. Did he? No. Instead, he shattered a family for horrid, backstabbing, phony Lorraine. And now beautiful, young Isabella lies buried in the cemetery overlooking the valley.”
Raking her nails down her face, drawing blood, she shrieks “Her mom, weeping rivers of tears each and every day, brings pink roses to her grave. I can smell those roses now, can’t you?”